My favorite conservative preacher — and newly minted editor of the Gospel Advocate — Gregory Alan Tidwell posted this comment this morning —
I hope all of my friends on this forum (that would be Jay and one other) would consider Matthew Morine’s outstanding article in the current Gospel Advocate. http://www.gospeladvocate.com/Magazines/GA/0112GA_division.pdf
I’d first like to thank Greg for posting the full text of the article at the Gospel Advocate website. The Advocate generally doesn’t post articles on the Internet, and we really couldn’t have much of a discussion on the topic without Greg doing that for us.
Second, Matthew Morine, the article’s author, has long been a reader and commenter here. Matthew has also written other articles for the Gospel Advocate, and yet Matthew maintains a blog listed here as “progressive.” Greg would consider him a progressive. Many here would consider him conservative. I’m not sure what that means except that, maybe, the labels aren’t all that helpful.
I do like Matthew. We’ve corresponded off and on. And this is even though he’s a Tennessee fan.
So here are my thoughts —
* The article is titled “Parallels of Division Within the Restoration Movement.” I would agree that our divisions have been parallel — except for the conservative/progressive division that is going on right now.
Until now, the divisions have been over what is “faith” vs. “opinion,” that is, what is authorized and what is banned by silence. Instrumental music, located preachers, church support for orphans homes, etc. (the list could be greatly lengthened) have all turned on whether a particular practice is deemed authorized by command, example, necessary inference (CENI) hermeneutics, or banned by CENI. Both sides agreed on CENI but each side had a different view as to how to apply CENI.
The current disagreement is different in kind. Rather, the (for want of a better term” progressive position is to reject CENI as a test of fellowship. Hence, progressives would contend that whether or not instrumental music is authorized, instrumental music is not a salvation or a fellowship issue. Thus, progressives seek to entirely escape the division triggered by CENI by finding a deeper, truer test of fellowship.
Not all progressives reject CENI, but all reject CENI as a test of fellowship.
Moreover, some progressives have gone a step further to consider penitent believers as brothers in Christ even if baptized imperfectly. It’s not entirely fair to characterize these progressives as fellowshipping the “unbaptized.” Rather, they would consider the baptisms received by, say, Baptists or even Methodists as flawed but sufficient by God’s grace.
Therefore, I see no parallels at all. The current disagreements are not about how to apply CENI. The old disagreements were.
* Matthew writes,
The churches of Christ from 1906 to 1980 enjoyed a relatively peaceful time of solidarity. although there were a few minor divergent paths of separation, overall, the church reaped the blessing of a strong core of faithful congregations moving on a united mission.
I’ll give a Matthew a pass on this due to his youth. I remember the split over institutionalism. Growing up, many of my friends were the sons and daughters of non-institutional ministers. That split was ugly and acrimonious.
Just so, there are still premillennial Churches of Christ that receive an asterisk in 21st Century Christian’s directory. Indeed, at one time in our history, they weren’t even listed. That controversy was largely over by my time, but the Churches were still reeling from the broadsides launched by Foy Wallace Jr. against the premillennial congregations — which he treated as damned.
The one-cup and no Sunday school divisions remain unhealed to this day. Today, the Memphis congregations are distraught over elder re-affirmation — labeled as apostasy by Contending for the Faith.
Indeed, it would take thousands of words just to list the issues which have been deemed salvation issues by one segment of the Churches or another. Greg and Matthew, both of whom are located preachers, should be thrilled that Daniel Sommer lost his influence. One of the reasons for the separation he triggered in 1889 was his objection to located preachers! And they were still controversial in my youth — although the controversy is now largely forgotten.
In short, to refer to those years as having “a few minor divergent paths of separation” is to — at best — romanticize the past. It was none too “minor” or “peaceful.”
The problem persists today. Indeed, the best I can tell, some among us still work hard to find new controversies to apostatize each other over. In fact, the Contending for the Faith crowd just recently declared Phil Sanders, an associate editor of the Gospel Advocate, “apostate” for accepting the personal indwelling of the Spirit!
So, no, it hasn’t been “peaceful.” And it’s still not. Even if there were no progressives, the Churches of Christ would still be divided and dividing. (Visit Alabama some time, and I’ll give you a tour of what division has done to the Church and its families.)
* Matthew lists three reasons for the 1906 split —
—The Civil War
Daniel Sommer’s split took place in Sand Creek, Illinois, which is Union territory. However, I’d agree that, over time, most of the a cappella Churches were in the former Confederacy, and the after-effects of the War did tend to push the Southern Churches apart from the Northern Churches.
Theological liberalism had much to do with the split of the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ from the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church). It had nothing to do with the divisions of 1889 and 1906 over the instrument and has nothing to do with the current division.
Sadly, the more conservative side of nearly every split has labeled the less conservative side “liberal,” seeking to tie to Rudolf Bultmann those who’d teach children in Sunday school, or support orphans from the church treasury or hire a preacher. But in each case, it’s been a slander and a grossly unfair tactic of tarring the other side by name calling.
Few progressive leaders would fully endorse the denial of absolute truth in churches of Christ, but the influence of this cultural mindset is being felt.
Oh, please … I’m not Postmodern. Neither is Al Maxey or Edward Fudge. Some years ago, we (and our predecessors) were accused of the “New Hermeneutic,” and then Situation Ethics. Before that, it was liberalism. It’s an old tactic of taking today’s bogeyman and tying one’s opponent to it.
Let me be quite clear. I am not Postmodern — even a little. Just the other day, I recommended to Greg D. A. Carson’s The Gagging of God, a thorough debunking of Postmodernism.
Because the philosophy denies man’s ability to be certain of anything, the leaders of progressive churches refuse to draw lines of fellowship, refuse to take definitive stances, and allow postmodern “I-am-fine-you-are-fine” attitudes to dominate the church.
And is it really honest and fair to accuse me of denying “man’s ability to be certain of anything.” Have I taught that? Ever? And just when and where have a made such an embarrassingly absurd argument? Or Al? Or Edward?
Now, here, I’d agree. The disagreement is very much about hermeneutics, that is, how one should interpret the Scriptures. Matthew writes,
The basic question concerning silence of Scripture is whether silence is prohibitive or permissive.
No, no, a thousand times, no!! That is not the argument. As I’ve argued here many times, that’s a false dichotomy, and it’s untrue to label most progressives as accepting the “Normative Principle of Worship” (silence is permissive). That is not the teaching.
Rather, the progressive view is to reject the question of authority — pro or con — and plea for a return to Scripture. The authority question comes, not from the Bible, but Zwingli and Calvin. Let’s instead let Paul guide us.
When Paul was asked what practices were permissible in the assembly, he didn’t refer to a list of x number of pre-authorized practices. Rather, he asked whether the practices edify the church.
(1Co 14:3-4 ESV) 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.
Paul concluded that practices that build up, encourage, and console the church are permissible. Those that do not, aren’t. And practices that don’t build up the church, such as speaking in tongue, may become permissible if they are done in an edifying way — such as by having an interpreter present. And practices that do build up the church — such as prophecy — may become impermissible if done in a non-edifying way, such as when the speakers rudely interrupt one another. Finally, Paul insists that practices be sensitive to unbelievers who might be present, so that they are moved to glorify God.
Paul’s approach is radically different from both Calvin’s Regulative Principle and the Normative Principle — and from 20th Century Church of Christ hermeneutics. The progressives therefore plea, not for liberalism or Postmodernism, but a return to Scripture. Let’s learn how to do hermeneutics from Paul, not Zwingli.
In his teachings on the Ancient Order of Things — dealing with church organization and worship — Alexander Campbell specifically said his teachings on the acts of worship and on church organization are not salvation issues or tests of fellowship, as noted by John Mark Hicks.
The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?
This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370,
(emphasis Hicks). And therein lies the core of the progressive position. We ask that the Churches of Christ become, once again, true heirs of the Restoration Movement, a movement founded to return us to the original grounds of unity — not Five Acts of Worship, but faith in Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah.
In the same article, Campbell writes,
Mr. Crawford of Chambersburgh gives the best definition of a creed of any of you human creed advocates: “It is a system of evangelical truth, deduced from the scriptures by uninspired men, printed to a book, and made a term of ecclesiastical fellowship.” (emphasis mine).
What then are you, brother Clack, contending about? About an ignis fatuus–a dead carcase; a dead letter–uninspired deductions? the apprehension of the theoretic truth of which depends upon the strength of intellect, and not upon faith at all. The apprehension of which never saved a sinner, nor edified a saint. If you were to issue from your press this day one myriad of such creeds, you would only poison the minds, inflame the passions, and scatter the seeds of discord throughout your churches. I do most earnestly beseech you, brother Clack, to abandon this heart-hardening–this soul-alienating–this discord-making–this strife-breeding course. Lift up your voice, and wield your pen in behalf of the superlative excellency, heaven-born simplicity, divine sufficiency, majesty, and power of the sacred writings of the holy apostles and prophets of Jesus our Lord. Call sinners to behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world, as he has been presented to us by his holy messengers–and exhort the saints to keep his commandments–to abide in his love–and to love one another for his name’s sake–and neither in the hour of death; nor in the day of judgment will it cause you to blush or tremble, because you have cast to the moles and to the bats the little book and all the sophistry which was attached to, and inseparably connected with, the keeping it in public esteem, as a form of sound words.
Amen. This is what today’s division is about. Will we deduce supposed truths and make them terms of “ecclesiastical fellowship”? Or shall we content ourselves to “call sinners to behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world” and “exhort saints to keep his commandments–to abide in his love–and to love one another for his name’s sake”?
PS — Alexander Campbell, despite his progressive views, was not influenced by Postmodernism, the New Hermeneutic, Situation Ethics, or German liberalism. He was influenced by the Bible.